Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
Campaign saga

Author: Nirmala Sitharaman
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: May 2, 2014
URL: http://www.asianage.com/columnists/campaign-saga-729

What the daughter (Priyanka) realised was that while she was available as the dutiful daughter to her mother and as a loving sister to her brother, they were not there to defend the son-in-law of the family

An election is not the best of times for fissures within a political party to get exposed — more so, mid-course. It may also be the most inappropriate of times to undertake trials in leadership with an objective to change command.

The Congress Party is churning within itself at a time when it should be setting the agenda for the campaign while trashing the Opposition’s charges about its failures. They should glow with a sense of purpose and commitment highlighting the successes of their current tenure. In short, they should be going out convincing people to renew their mandate.
That the Congress Party’s leadership is under siege is apparent — as soon as the elections to the Lok Sabha were announced, many of its prominent leaders looked for excuses to stay away from the contest. A hesitant few agreed to contest but as an afterthought quit the party returning the ticket. A few others were pressured to contest in the absence of enthusiastic ticket-seekers. If leaders shied away from the contest, the message to energise the campaign, too, was diffused.
The party had ruled out the sitting Prime Minister as the leader much before it identified another in his place. The hesitant scion of the first family was launched with a slogan of self-denial: “Mein nahin, hum” (not me, we). It is ironical that in a party where the first assumption is “the family rules”, to pick someone from the family to lead required such a long gestation period!
Even as he was leading the charge, the party betrayed a sense of doubt and rushed in the head of the family. Not even waiting for the sunrise, a half-hearted change of guard was done through an address to the nation with airtime bought off television channels. Even before the message could sink in, the daughter is projected as leading from the front. Why then was she reiterating all the while that she would confine her campaign only to the two family boroughs in Uttar Pradesh? As if anticipating this question, a party general secretary asserts that even confining herself to the two pocket boroughs, the daughter has effectively challenged the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate and set on course a new vigour to its national campaign.
Even as this predilection was looming large, a supplementary manifesto was issued on a subject which has remained an enduring favourite for the Congress — reservation for religious minorities. For a party which went hammer and tongs at the BJP for releasing its manifesto on the first day of polling, to release a supplementary manifesto after the completion of five out of the nine phases will need a great deal of audacity. It accentuates the extent of confusion that prevails in the Congress war room — on naming its general and on defining its message.
As is its wont, the Congress lowered and personalised its attack and thereby its message too. The vice-president quickly retracted after raking up a matter-of-fact declaration by the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in his affidavit. It gave the impression of a course correction. The leadership that had earlier spoken about a maut ka saudagar, which recently rehashed the same as zeher ki kheti couldn’t face the public distaste when they raised the issue of a marriage that was not. The trial with daughter too went down a similar course.
Speaking out to defend an “unjust attack” on her husband, in the name of dignity in political discourse a message of zero tolerance of personal attacks was sent out. Unlike the brother who quickly retracted his step, the very next day, a vicious personal attack was launched with ferocity. However, what the daughter realised was that while she was available as the dutiful daughter to her mother and as a loving sister to her brother, they were not there to defend the son-in-law of the family!
The irony of this entire campaign saga of the Congress Party is that it has now become similar to the colourful TV serials/soap operas. Is democracy at play within the Congress? Are these the collateral fall-outs of factional strife within the family? A solution or even an alternative to the solution albeit emerging from the first family, still remain unsettled? To cover up these chinks in its armour, the Congress leadership adopts a faux aggression and spews below-the-belt attacks at its principle opponent. It vitiates the political discourse with personalised attacks. It is as if personalised attacks and obnoxious language are Congress Party’s prerogatives. They believe that they shall never be paid back in the same coin. Its minions and the cottage industry of intellectuals and social activists are ever ready to issue statements condemning anyone else who dare to break this sacred code.
There can be no justification for discourtesies or demeaning language in public discourse. Personalising attacks, name-calling and abuses are abhorrent. These are extremes. Display of arrogance and scorn at being questioned are equally no virtues in public life. In free India’s history, every time the Congress has faced defeat, it has displayed such qualities. Its leadership, unused as it is to staying out of power, switches on the auto pilot mode that even some of its most suave and sophisticated faces also unhesitatingly mouth the uncouth.
The Congress is at sea! It is neither clear nor sure on who it wants to project as its leader, what its message should be and what communication strategy should it deploy at various levels. In other words, its dilemma is on how it should fight this battle to keep itself relevant. The dilemma is the outcome of its internal dynamics compounded by its failure to provide good governance in the last 10 years. Abuse and vitriol in language are poor substitute for answers. The people of India have suffered misrule by the Congress-led UPA government. Should they be subject to this poorly choreographed televised every day ordeal?

- The writer is spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The views expressed in this column are her own.

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements